By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved
One of the biggest tragedies of abuse in all its forms, especially in the church, is the fact that legal charges are frequently not filed. There are many reasons why victims and their families do not report abuse, some universal inside and out of church. Fear of the attacker and attacker’s threats to hurt the victim or his/her family is probably the most common universal reason.
However, there are also some peculiarities specific to church abuse. Some of the reasons abuse is not reported include:
- We don’t want to “ruin” God’s reputation.
- We believe, or are taught, that God will take care of justice and it’s not our place to take matters into our own hands.
- The abuser wears such a good public face, we don’t think anyone will believe us.
- We’ve seen others who raise questions be blasted and slandered by those in authority.
- We suspect, or know, our own reputation will be publically smeared if we say anything.
- Rousing the ire of the abuser makes the abuse worse.
- We believe the abuse really is our fault.
- It was a long time ago and doesn’t matter anymore.
Every one of these reasons seems overpowering, but each one is not valid. Here’s why:
- We don’t want to “ruin” God’s reputation. God can take care of His own reputation. It is not our responsibility to “protect” it. More importantly, we have to separate the abusive authority from God Himself. The abuser is not God.
- We believe, or are taught, that God will take care of justice and it’s not our place to take matters into our own hands. God uses people. If people will not stand up for righteousness, unrighteousness will prevail.
- The abuser wears such a good public face, we don’t think anyone will believe us. And we may be right; people may not believe us. In fact, people will probably not believe us. But the truth is more important than that. Again, if no one speaks up, unrighteousness will prevail.
- We’ve seen others who raise questions be blasted and slandered by those in authority. Yes, and it may happen to us too. But the same applies as for the last point.
- We suspect, or know, our own reputation will be publically smeared if we say anything. Ditto, once again.
- Rousing the ire of the abuser makes the abuse worse. We do have to be careful here, but not at the cost of doing nothing. If it will put you in danger, take every step necessary to protect yourself. Also, keep a log of what you do, when, and what happens — in detail. This is critical. I can’t tell you how important this step is and it’s one most people ignore! I ignored it myself, to my significant harm.
- We believe the abuse really is our fault. This is a lie that’s as common as abuse. Abusers tell us it’s our fault, we asked for it, we wanted it, and our bodies may have an uncontrollable physiological response to sexual abuse making us think we wanted it — none of those details makes us guilty. Abuse carries a side effect of guilt and shame because our consciences have been violated. But it’s not guilt on our part; it’s imputed guilt put on us by the abuse.
- It was a long time ago and doesn’t matter anymore. Even if a statute of limitations has made legal prosecution impossible it is still critical to report abuse. Abusers never abuse just one person! If you were abused by someone, it is 100% certain that abuser has abused others and, if they are still alive, they are still abusing others. Abuse will not end without consequences that force an abuser to stop.
Most important of all, God expects and requires us to abide under civil authorities. The Word says they have been given to us for our protection. Civil authorities are not our enemies, regardless of what abusive churches, abusive church leaders, and abusers tell us. If we do not report abuse to the appropriate authorities we are not only directly disobeying God, we are complicit it the abuse if it happens or is happening to someone else. That’s a hard truth, but it is truth. And a spouse who does not report his/her partner who is abusing their children is legally guilty of abuse. This is another hard truth that no one talks about. But if the authorities find out a parent has been abusing a child and the other parent knew about it, both parents will be charged with child abuse and, at the very least, lose custody.